The average retail price of electricity in Virginia was 4.6 percent lower during the first nine months of 1981 than during the same period a year ago, according to a report recently issued by Virginia Electric and Power Co. During that time inflation, as measured by the consumer price index, rose 10.6 percent.

"I'm delighted with Vepco's rate performance during the first nine months of the year," said Vepco president William W. Berry. "This provides a strong start towards our goal of keeping our electric rates in line with, or below, the general rise in prices throughout the 1980s."

Vepco customers paid an average retail price of 5.38 cents a kilowatt-hour during the first three-quarters of this year, compared to an average price of 5.64 cents during the same nine-month period in 1980. Retail customers include residential, commercial and industrial users.

The cost of electricity to Vepco's residential customers declined 4.3 percent in Virginia and 1.6 percent in North Carolina. Vepco's West Virginia customers suffered a 27.8 percent increase in rates, due largely to rate decisions by that state's public utility commission which brought West Virginia prices into line with other Vepco jurisdictions.

According to the report, Vepco's electricity prices have declined because of a shift in power generation away from expensive oil-fired units to cheaper nuclear and coal units, reducing overall fuel expenses. Vepco fuel costs for a kilowatt-hour of electricity generated from oil now equals about 5 cents, compared to 2 cents for coal and about a half-cent for nuclear.

During the first nine months of 1981, Vepco's nuclear units provided about 40 percent of customers' electricity, an increase of 73 percent over the same period last year. Coal generation rose to 29 percent, a 22 percent increase, during the first nine months of this year. Oil generation decreased 57 percent from last year's level, accounting for just 9 percent of Vepco's total energy supply.

Vepco purchased about 21 percent of its customers' electricity from other utilities during the first nine months of the year, largely to avoid the high production costs of oil-generated power. The purchases represented a 28 percent decline over similar purchases last year.